Sunday, 26 October 2008

A Career Runaround


   Writing in Talent Management magazine, Mike Prokopeak compares the Amish practice of 'rumspringa' to the tendency of most organisations to try and protect their people from the outside world.

"When Amish teenagers turn 16, they are allowed the freedom to explore the world outside...  During the rumspring, they experiment with life among the 'English', as they call anyone who is not Amish.  Parents don't expressly encourage their explorations, but they don't expressly forbid it either.

It would stand to reason that a culture so cloistered would do its best to shield its young people from the influences of the outside world.  But the Amish take a different view.  They see rumspringa as a chance for youth to explore their options before they make a conscious commitment to settle down and live a fully Amish life."


Prokopeak suggests that organisations should maybe encourage their high performers to explore their options - even if these opportunities lie elsewhere.

I helped one company look at this sort of approach a couple of years ago.  They had a lot of senior managers who had plateaued and no longer seemed that engaged.  We provided them the opportunity to reflect on where the organisation was going, they type of people and skills it would need in the future, and also the sorts of opportunities, and reward, that they would probably be able to tap elsewhere.

The belief here was that the organisation would benefit from having a smaller number of highly engaged, aligned and focused individuals, rather than the higher number of currently less engaged.

As Prokopeak notes, implementing this sort of approach requires a very strong culture based on a high level of trust (and social capital):

"What keeps them coming back?  Part of it may be pressure, but it's more likely their strong bonds with family or the comfort and support their culture provides that brings them back.  Their parents place a profound trust and freedom to choose in their hands, which deepens their commitment to their way of life."


It also requires a long-term perspective to talent management - accepting the short-term hit of the potential loss of high performers for the longer-term gains of attracting the very best people and engaging them while they remain in employment.